It seems that our traveling plans have turned into dreams since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of us have been confined into our homes, cities, and home countries. However, with the arrival of the vaccine, we are getting closer to a time when we will be able to clean the dust off our old suitcases and get back to our adventures.
Even now, some Asian countries are opening up to tourists. Travelers can visit some parts of China, Taiwan, Singapore, The Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Jordan, with specific restrictions and rules. Regardless of whether you are planning on visiting Asia now or when the situation settles, there are some rules and cultural norms you need to know before going.
Do not tip in Japan and Singapore
While tipping is normal and desirable in western culture, it’s actually considered rude in Japan, Singapore, and many other Asian countries. In these countries, it is ingrained that a job is a thing of pride, and a salary is the only rightfully earned compensation for all the work done. In some Asian countries, this is changing because of the inflow of tourists, but you definitely want to consider your position carefully to avoid offending someone.
When in Taiwan, don’t jam your chopsticks into the rice
If you don’t eat Asian food often or if you use a fork at home to eat your rice, it’s natural that you are not very nifty with chopsticks. However, there are some basics you need to know.
Leaving your chopsticks jammed in a bowl of rice might not seem like a big deal to you, but to the Taiwanese, it can be insulting. This is because chopsticks in this position remind locals of the incense burned in the temples when someone dies. Besides this, there are some other things you shouldn’t do in Taiwan, such as beckoning someone with your index finger (the “come here” gesture).
Remove your shoes when entering most objects (most Asian countries)
Taking off your shoes before entering an object is a common tradition in most Asian countries, from China to Vietnam. While most people know that this is done when entering temples, you should be aware that it is often considered an insult not to kick off your shoes when entering someone’s home. Removing your shoes is an act of courtesy, but you can still wear slippers or socks if that is more comfortable for you.
Do not display affection in public (every Asian country)
A little kiss on the cheek to say hello to an acquaintance, hugging a friend you haven’t seen a long time, holding hands, or kissing passionately – all of these things are not acceptable in Asian countries. These acts of intimacy and affection are reserved for private spaces alone. You can, however, hold hands with a person of the same gender in some countries, such as India.
Be careful how you behave on a train in Japan
Train etiquette is very important in Japan. Essentially, everything that could disturb other passengers is considered rude and offensive. For example, it is essential not to take up excessive space by keeping your luggage on the seat next to you. You should be as quiet as possible (this includes putting your phone on silent), and you must not eat, drink, or litter in public transport.
Share your food (almost everywhere)
In most Asian countries, it is customary to prepare many different dishes and display them on top of a big table. Even when going out to eat, people tend to order many different dishes instead of one individual dish, and everyone gets to try everything. Speaking of dining, if there is a communal drink on the table, you should never fill your own cup first – fill everyone else’s so you wouldn’t be considered greedy and selfish.
Avoid handing out money to the kids on the streets of Nepal
When in Nepal, it’s not unusual to be asked for “just one rupee” by the kids on the streets. While this may be a small amount for you as a western tourist, the general take is that being successful at begging motivates young kids to drop out of school and take up a “beggar’s career.” If you want to help the less fortunate kids, give your money to charity or a school.
These were just some of the cultural norms and rules from different Asian countries. When you decide on a specific destination, dig deeper into its traditions to help you prepare for your travel.